Back arrow
back to all episodes
October 15, 2021
Matt Scott
 Transforming Nonprofit Organizations to Prepare for Massive Annual Growth Featuring Matt Scott from CauseMic

Transforming Nonprofit Organizations to Prepare for Massive Annual Growth Featuring Matt Scott from CauseMic

Show Notes:

Matt was invited to the Guadalupe Homeless Project in LA, where undocumented immigrants were trying to survive day to day. His early application of social entrepreneurship, which was a term that barely existed, was to create a language learning program for the immigrants at this facility.  

He also did a stint at a long-term care facility, which was difficult and not remotely enjoyable. But it taught him another valuable lesson: the value of treating your employees well. He left and wound up at the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), where he fell into a good rhythm with an empowering manager. 

It brought yet another important business lesson, but a much more personal one. Matt realized at NWEA that he was a builder and a doer. And at that moment, very serendipitously, he was introduced to Team Rubicon. It would change the trajectory of his entire life. 

Early in his time with Team Rubicon, the organization was doing $250,000 in revenue. And as he flew to Dreamforce one year, Matt remembers reading an article about, which had just come onto the scene. 

“What [Chewy] had achieved was personalization at scale…I remember thinking that if [Team Rubicon] could do what Chewy did and leverage technology to achieve personalization at scale, then we could do something special in this space.” 

This was top-of-mind for Matt because he had spent hours handwriting thank you cards in response to donors who supported Team Rubicon’s Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. He wrote cards to the same people, multiple times, because they had no CRM or tech to help. 

So, Matt got to work implementing Salesforce at Team Rubicon. Soon, Team Rubicon was doing $40 million in revenue.

"A couple years [after my first flight to Dreamforce], we were doing the keynote at Dreamforce, talking about how we implemented a system that scales personalized engagement to deploy thousands of people across the country and world to respond to disasters. That was the moment that changed everything.”

It was a symphonic crescendo. All the winding paths of his career finally came together in that one, glorious intersection of business and social good. But it was a bittersweet moment for Matt. 

Team Rubicon, with its major success, became more focused. The ability to have his hands in a lot of different parts of the organization was diminishing, and Matt felt it was time to build a company and define an innovative culture of his own. It was finally time for CauseMic.

“Team Rubicon is an important part of my story, and I’m an important part of theirs…But CauseMic is my company. It wasn’t hubris here. I felt ready to take this on. It was incredibly hard to leave, but when it’s time it’s time.” 

CauseMic is laser focused on helping nonprofits rapidly scale their revenue. They choose to work with organizations who want to 10x their revenue in 3 to 5 years. And within that mindset Matt has found a home for his desire to build, do, and make a social impact. 

“If you’re a half-a-billion dollar charity, or a $500,000 charity; if you’re trying to 10x your revenue in 3 to 5 years, you have to make bold calculated risks. You have to take to a whiteboard and think about, not how do we modify our current business model to have incremental year over year growth, but how do we think entirely differently. That’s what we’re really focused on.” 

They spend their time helping organizations identify their key audiences, understanding what motivates someone to donate, and focusing on what drives conversions. One of their notable clients is the Gary Sinise Foundation (GSF), which stands as a strong example of their work in action.

The CauseMic team identified that people support GSF because of two things. The first is service and sacrifice: donors want to support those who have served our country and sacrificed for them. Second is trust and transparency: donors trust GSF will deliver on their promises. And that trust is reinforced with a strategy that sees GSF answer every phone call, reply to every letter, and leave no donor touchpoint unanswered.

There are so many other examples you can learn from in this episode, and a long list of tips for organizations trying to disrupt their spaces. Make sure you listen to the full episode for more on how to hyper-focus your engagement, paying fair and equitable wages, where to invest time and money, and how to manage expectations.

Subscribe to Cause & Purpose
on your favorite platforms:

Link to YouTube.Link to Spotify Podcasts.Link to Apple Podcasts.Link to Google Podcasts.


[00:00:00] You have to figure, like if you're a half a billion dollar charity or your $500,000 charity, if you're trying to 10 X your revenue in three to five years, you have to be willing to make bold, calculated risks. You have to be willing to take to a whiteboard. Think about not, how do we modify our current business model to have incremental year over year growth, but how do we, how do we think entirely welcome to cause and purpose the show about leaders, innovators, and change agents working on the front lines to solve some of the world's greatest social.

I'm Mike spear and today's guest is my good friend, Matt Scott. That is the co-founder and CEO of cosmic, a boutique consulting firm that specializes in helping nonprofit organizations through digital transformation and finding innovative and creative ways of helping them scale. That is one of the hardest working people I know, and it has a truly unique style and perspective on the space.

There are tons of actionable insights in this episode. It's pretty fun. Anecdotes as well. Hope you enjoy, dude. Thanks so much for being here. I've been excited about this one for awhile. You're definitely. You know, one of my oldest and best friends in the space always love chatting and collaborating and swapping ideas.

Um, so really appreciate you taking time to join the podcast. Um, oh man, I'm happy to be here and uh, can't wait to, to revisit some, some memories of ours and, uh, and maybe share some news stories too. So appreciate you having. Give me some insight into, into the young Matthew Scott. I'm really curious about sort of how you grew up and, and particularly like, you know, what were some of those first inclinations of like, you know, wanting to go to the social sector?

I mean, he has a, has a story, right? So everyone's story is unique and I think interesting and. There's a lot of like these moments in, in my young life, that influence, I think who I am today, you know, I I'm one of [00:02:00] one of 13, but I'm also an only child, which is a really weird thing, which is just mean, it means that I am the only child of my mom and my dad, but my dad was remarried, uh, remarried a Catholic Catholic woman and had six children and, and my mom also remarried and, and has, uh, Has three other children and then her, her husband has a few children from his previous marriage.

So that's sort of like a fun fact. I share about people or with people when they ask me, like, what's a fun fact about yourself, but yeah, I grew up in, I grew up in new England, uh, and I, I, you know, I'm, uh, I was a transplant to the west coast. I was, as they say, new England, I was wicked. Uh, I was wicked in town.

And I like to think that anyone can move from the, from the east coast to the west coast. Cause it's like fishing in a barrel in terms of like just intensity and everything is life or death, but to move from the west coast to the east coast, like you will be eaten alive. It is really hard. Right. So yeah, young me family had, uh, had restaurants.

So I spent a lot of my time on prep tables rolling, uh, doing child labor. Rolling. Rolling silverware getting ready for service. That's my memory of it is like I was really effective and helpful, but I'm sure I was a little shit wreaking havoc in the kitchen during prep time. And, uh, yeah, my grandfather is a big influence in my young life.

Um, As well. I mean, I feel like I grew up kind of around business people. My grandfather worked at a big company, uh, called DEC digital equipment company and, uh, traveled a lot internationally. It was really a stupid business person and went on to work at IBM. And he was, he was the editor of a newspaper for like 30 years in Oklahoma.

So he was also a transplant and a. Yeah. I mean, I just knew kind of like from, from when I was a kid that, that I was going to be in business. And at that time I was laser focused on being really rich. And you talk about like the social, social entrepreneur [00:04:00] in the social sector. So like, I probably got into the wrong space for that, but I feel like I'm fulfilled, enriched in a lot of other ways.

So it's, it's cool has actually been a topic of conversation between us for years. And you know, I've always been fascinated by, you know, first of all, how hard you. And second. You know, the, the many things that you're involved in and this notion that you've always had about wanting to be able to retire at a, at a very young age, not to say you just hang it up and not work anymore, but have that freedom to retire at a certain w what was it like 45 or something like that?

Oh, if I have to wait that long. Um, but no, you're right. I mean, I kind of define retirement as being able to say no to a project that I don't want to do. And I feel like I'm really close to that. Like, I'm closer to that than I've ever been in. To a lot of great things happening, but I also, I still feel like an urge sometimes to take on stuff I don't want to do, but I do.

I like that you call it that. Right? Like my thinking has evolved in the sense that several close to me have pointed out, like, what the hell are you going to do? If you're retired? Like find another job, you know, probably. So that, that resonates even just. You know, in our current careers as consultants advisers, like it's, it is tempting to take on sometimes projects that you have question marks about, but those can actually create more harm than good in the sense that they're so distracting.

And so time-consuming from higher impact. Yeah, you, you hit that on the head. It's something that I had to learn, you know, through this evolution that I think a lot of business people go through, which is like at first, you're just, you kind of fall into this accidental business. It's, especially in the consulting or service world, it's, you know, you're applying your skills that you're good at.

And then, you know, you end up saying yes to a lot of stuff and. Um, you kind of are saying yes to everything and trying to figure out what sticks, and then eventually you hone in on like, what is your really, what's your core offering? What is your niche, whether you really, really gifted at, um, [00:06:00] and if you can focus on that and there's market demand, then you can become more efficient and more impactful.

And it is a really weird thing. Like the more you say no to a prospective client, I find them where they want to work with you, um, which is in some ways really cool, but I think it, it shows like this is where we want to focus. So I think it's something that you've also done. And I think you've found a good way to, to hone in on.

The types of organizations that you want to really work, work with. And part of it's probably about you just getting fired up and being excited to work with them is, do you feel like that's right? You don't know till you try it, you got to test the market a little bit and see what you like and what you don't.

And what's a good fit, and what's not, you know, what she described as also something organization should, should really focus on as well as finding their own product market fit, figuring out like what's in their lane as, as like their co their chosen cause area. And. So, so, you know, as long as we're there already give us, give us the cosmic elevator pitch.

Like where, what are you guys really specializing in right now? And, uh, seeing success with, oh, man, uh, well, we're laser focused on helping non-profits rapidly scale their revenue. So we look for organizations that are looking to try and 10 X their revenue in three to five years. And what we've found is, you know, within that mindset, there's this like, there's this willingness to, to for exponential growth, there's a willingness, like you have to figure, like if you're a half a billion dollar charity or your $500,000 charity, if you're trying to 10 X your revenue in three to five years, You have to be willing to make bold, calculated risk.

You have to be willing to take to a whiteboard and think about not, how do we modify our current business model to, to have incremental year over year growth, but how do we, how do we think entirely different? And so that's, that's what we're really focused on. I mean, You know, a lot of digital [00:08:00] agencies are campaign focused or otherwise.

And that's really not like that's a consequence. That's like a tactical kind of way of executing on our mission, but we're just really hyper-focused on, on looking, uh, for organizations that want to truly disrupt the space and then apply our skills and experience and in helping them. Do just that. Where are you guys really focused?

Is it company culture, change management, digital transformation, you know, when you, when you meet a new, a new leader in an organization who's interested in working with cosmic, what are some of the traits that you look for in that person that, um, or indications that somebody that, you know, Hey, you want to work with a, B is capable of, of having that mindset and going through that sort of transformation.

Yeah. Great question. I mean, we have found. That exponential growth disruption comes, boils down to three things, people process and technology more often than not. It's about the people. And it's about kind of unifying all three of those things towards a common goal. So, you know, when we're working with somebody we've, we've honed in on, we used to do these like really long, 30 to 50 page strategic kind of reports with short and long-term recommendations and current.

And what we found was like, they just collect us. And so now we're really like, we've we learned from that mistake and now we're focused on, you know, basically creating an action plan and we call it a rapid growth plan. And the rapid growth plan really consists of three components. It's, it's a one page strategic plan and it's actually really challenging to get it down to one page.

And it's the who, what, when, where, why. Um, and it's just like a visualization of a strategic plan that allows anybody in the organization to look at that and just know where should I focus my time and energy. And then the second piece is the project backlog and the backlog. A trick that, you know, I [00:10:00] used, um, when leading a team and managing a team and team Rubicon, where basically like we had so many competing priorities and we just threw everything on the backlog and we basically scored them based on the highest potential impact at the lowest possible cost, be a timer money.

And then the third piece is, is it KPI, tracker by function. So it's really important to know what your strategy is. Individual steps you're going to take to get there. And how do you measure the effectiveness of those steps? So now we have this action plan, right? So it's just totally different than the 30 to 50 page document that we used to produce.

And on one hand, like we're getting more efficient where we're getting more profitable at delivering it, which is important because profit allows us to provide. Uh, living wage and benefits that punch above our weight class and all the things that are important to sustain in a company. But also, um, we found that it's, you know, a double-edged sword, like it's a very effective tool to help our clients scale.

So. What we're looking for in that sales cycle and what I would kind of share with other aspiring entrepreneurs. And I, by no means that I figured this out. Like at first it took a lot of like missteps falling on my face, a lot of reading, a lot of mentorship, um, and a lot of just trial and error, but we're, we're looking at our client's stack right now.

And we're like, holy crap, everyone is really fun. So we look for like people, we want it, we enjoy it. Doing really hard work with, right? Because like we have a client that we're working with right now. Surfrider and I am just, I got a call later today with them and I'm super stoked to get on the phone with them.

They're just so fun. And they're looking to disrupt, they're looking to change things and. I think when we're on the call, like we look for a willingness to change a mindset of disruption and can we be our authentic [00:12:00] self with them during the sales cycle? So like, if that means that you curse, if that means that you, you know, come as the most prepared person, if you come as the least prepared person come as your authentic self to.

Kind of initial discovery and getting to know each other, because that is how you are going. If you fake it, if you fake it and pretend to be somebody you're not, you're going to end up with clients that are looking for something other than what you deliver and you will be in a continuous spiral of crap.

So tell me that, tell me the Loyola Marymount stuff. Right about before I was going to transfer, you know, it was, it was such a blessing, like all these moments in life, when things don't go the way you think they are, they end up being a part of your story. And, and depending on how you approach them, they can be these huge forces of change.

And in my life, it was a huge force of change. I ended up working full-time at an ad agency and, um, I started as an intern and kind of circumstances happen. Like some people were like fired or quit and I also just outworked everybody. So I ended up running their media department pretty much as like, not knowing it.

And then I was sitting there on the lawn, watching the graduation happened before I was supposed to transfer to LMU. And I remember father Lawton at the time was this, uh, was this guy who, um, Who is the president of the school. And he talked about how, you know, when you're at LMU, it's your opportunity to be selfish.

Like that's when you're supposed to learn and like explore yourself and, and whatnot. But now that you're graduating, you have an obligation to go out into the world and to be men and women with and for others. And to apply this to something bigger than yourself. And I remember listening to that and I think that was the first time I started this transformation.

You know, not just this kid who was hell bent on making a fortune, but also being [00:14:00] like, how can I kind of find this intersection between business and, and, and doing good. Um, and that was like, kind of really early, like B Corp didn't exist. Right. And social entrepreneurship wasn't really like a defined term yet, but it was like some kind of things started brewing inside of me.

Um, and only strengthened over time, if that makes sense. Like, you know, I, after that window incident where Jenna shut a curtain in my face, um, she invited me to, to go to Guadalupe homeless project in east Los Angeles with undocumented immigrants where, uh, you know, just trying to survive. And, um, I remember helping to create a.

Language learning program for the undocumented immigrants and got some computers donated and, and, and building up this like kind of this, this small way of applying my kind of business skills to the community and, and those things. They really shaped me. And then I, you know, I ended up working at the center for service and action.

Um, again, kind of as a community-based learning coordinator, which was this really cool thing where, you know, as a part of your classwork, you could. You could go out and do like you had to go out and do volunteer service. So I was the only business major in the, uh, center for service and action. It was basically the center for hippies and, um, misfits.

And, uh, and that was like a really interesting experience, right? Like once again, I surprised and delighted, and I disappointed

those that I worked with, but it was like, it was those moments and those experiences. Just began to push me towards this social entrepreneurship. Kind of space, you know, where did you sort of get this like blue collar, like get shit done, ethos. [00:16:00] It's true. Classy and team Rubicon both as well. That's something I think the organizations both had in common, but where did that come from?

And, and, you know, how has that served you in your career and in school and everything else? Yeah, I mean, I'm saying this as somebody who lives in an extroverts world as a morning person, like it's kind of not fair, right? I am both an artisan and an extrovert, anything. And I say that I, you know, as a, as a white male in America, so with an education, so there's a certain privilege that comes with that.

But I do believe that I never doubted anything would be doable. And I also always show up, like I cannot work. Almost anyone that there's something about work ethic, like growing up? Yeah, the restaurant business. Um, I was watching that my dad owned a, you know, a small construction company. He built steel buildings.

My grandfather was an executive at IBM. Everybody I knew worked their asses off. Like it was a way of life. And. The lessons of hard work started early. I mean, I grew up in new England and great huge amount of leaves, but also was taught about money. And I always had money because I was always working and I saw a direct connection between work and money.

So after Loyola, what was your first official gig in the nonprofit sector? Oh, after LMU, I did a stint at a long-term care facility, which was the worst year of my life. Why. Well, oh my God. Talk about learning how to work hard. I was on call 24 7, literally. Uh, I had worked the entire year without a single day off and I was her role there.

I was like an assistant administrator, so there was a skilled nursing and, and a assisted living facility on this campus. And my role is to like, be kind of learning how to be an administrator. So I was in charge of a lot of functions, like, but primarily. Like scheduling and HR and oversight of the [00:18:00] nursing staff.

Um, like there was, there were clinical nurses and aides and it was crazy, man. We've we fired like over 200 people that year and hired a bunch. And that was all on me to do. And. It was hell. Um, I, it taught me though the value of treating employees well, and I went from there to this place called MWEA, which is a nonprofit, and that was my first time working at an organization like.

And when I joined, I think we were somewhere around like 13 million in revenue. And when I left three years later, we were at like a hundred and something million in revenue. So really it's a, it used to Sanford Northwest evaluation association, but now they just go by NWA and it's a, it's a computer adaptive assess.

Four kids. So it kind of measures kids' individual growth in the classroom and creates these individualized learning plans that help kids with math and science and reading and things like that. I went from the worst manager I'd ever had to by far the best manager I'd ever had. Um, And I worked for this woman named Linda, my wives, and she was unbelievable.

She was like a, uh, an amazing, she is an amazing woman. She, uh, but a great leader, but, you know, while I was there, I realized like, holy shit, I am a builder and a doer, not a maintainer. And there was a point where my role was very much in the maintaining. Like I worked in finance between in business operations, between finance and sales, and there were elements that were like scaling, but then there were elements that were just incredibly boring and it was around that time that I was introduced to team Rubicon and kind of just change the trajectory of my life, similar to that, that experience I had at LMU.

And, and I'm very grateful for my time at a NWA. I also realized, like, I can never go back to a cubicle like that is not. For me T talk more about that [00:20:00] revelation, that you're a builder and not, not a maintainer. Cause I, you know, in a startup world you have to grapple with that all the time. And I had a similar realization about myself.

I'm very much, you know, I really enjoy the creation and build phase much more so than just the, you know, maintain and scale. I think. I just have recognized, like I'm addicted to the build. I love looking at the impossible and state and figuring out the steps to get there and then outworking everyone to help make it happen.

And then kind of looking around and being like, holy shit, we just did this. It's addictive. Isn't it? It is man. It's it's interesting. Cause like it was kind of that moment at team Rubicon. It was a very difficult decision to leave tr and I have like a really cool position within the organization and we're, they're still rapidly growing, but it was nothing like the early days when I was there, we were like 250,000 in revenue to 40 million in revenue.

And it was like being strapped to a rocket ship and the. Kind of energy and the informality of it all. Um, when you're just defining culture and you're defining how you're going to reach this place, you're defining what is that impossible and state. That's the part that's so exciting. And I think that that's why I ultimately landed on consulting because every day is different.

Every, every quarter, every month we take on new clients and they're all have different challenges that makes it really exciting for, for people like us, you know, where you are. You're you're really excited by the build and you're fueled by the build. So, yeah. How did you, how did you meet tr and, and it give us, give us the, you know, give us the elevator pitch.

Like what there's team Rubicon team Rubicon. Well, their north star has to be the best disaster relief organization in the world and they, their, how they're going to do that is they repurpose the skills and experience of military veterans to respond to [00:22:00] disasters. Yeah, it's, it's a global force now, a credible organization, and I actually met team Rubicon.

Uh, their first full-time employee was a woman named Joanne Dennis and I worked with Joanne at Loyola Marymount university. She was the alternative breaks. She built their alternative breaks program, which is basically like instead of going to spring break and Mexico and having tequila shots, you, you go and do volunteer service.

And I, I led one of these trips that worked with houseless and, uh, HIV. Uh, you know, people in, in New York and, um, and at the time, like I was going through my own experience, living in a car. And, and so the whole experience of like going to New York and, and working with other people in that situation was really cool and compelling.

And I met Joanne and she was just, she is a, you know, an Indian. She has this addictive laugh and she's just really fun. And, and so she gave me a call one day when I was, when I was working at the cubicle and ended VA and said, Hey, we're building this organization that I'm like, you know, when my garage, and I think you'd be really a good fit for it.

Do you want to help out? And then, uh, and that was kinda how I got introduced to Tiara. Of course. I said, hell yeah, that sounds fun. You know, what were, what were some of those early days? Like, you know, hurricane Sandy was obviously a big pivot point. But, you know, what, what were a couple of little, sort of unique, fun things that happened or were just sort of characteristic of those days?

Yeah, there there's like all these little micro moments and if you've read Jake Wood's book, um, he recently wrote, wrote a book called once a warrior and he talks about the whole story of journeys. Yeah, his, his journey back home and finding his renewed sense of purpose. He's he's the co-founder of the organization.

You know, he talks about these, these moments when like everything changed. And I remember hurricane Sandy was one of those moments where, you know, [00:24:00] it, it felt like we were breaking, you know, like, eh, it was like this breaking moment and then it, it propelled us forward. And yeah, it was like kind of the moment when.

I was not in New York. I was tasked with kind of like the behind the scenes. I was helping fundraise. And at that time there was no one else fundraising, Jake fundraised. And then I think there was like me and that was it. And I was handwriting. Thank you cards to every single person. And I think this is right around when we met Mike, because they were using classy to fundraise.

I was handwriting. Thank you cards to every single person and making phone calls to every person who donated. And it was amazing. The reaction from people who gave five or 10 bucks who got a call was just like, they couldn't believe it. You know? And then fast forward, two years later, I flew to Dreamforce and this was actually right when first came onto the store onto the scene.

So is like a, an e-commerce. U E T E retailer. And what's really special. Like I was on an Alaska airlines flight, reading an article about and what they had achieved was personalization at scale. So, you know, going back to that hurricane Sandy story, like I was handwriting cards, but I often would hand write them to the same person twice and three times or four times.

And we get like a, Hey, we really appreciated this note, but like we got it three or four times. And that's because we had no CRM. We had no. We had no, we had no technology to help us scale. And I just remember feeling like, man, if we could do a did, if we could leverage technology to achieve personalization at scale.

Then we could do something pretty special in this space. And then over the next two years, I, I set out to try and implement Salesforce and we were trailblazing. I mean, they didn't, they hadn't even created really a, a solution for nonprofits. And, [00:26:00] and then just a couple of years later, we were doing the keynote in front of 30,000 people at Dreamforce talking about how we implemented this system to, to scale personalized engagement and deploy thousands of people.

All across the country in the world to respond to disaster. Yeah. So it was just a, I think for me, that was the moment that changed. Everything was on that flight to Dreamforce. It's also interesting that you, you bring up that story about handwriting, all those letters, um, that hurricane Sandy event and sort of how you guys did the donor.

Thank yous. Really sticks out and is one of the first things I think of when I'm talking to nonprofits about how to do donor engagement. I remember. Um, you know, a lot of us at class we had given what we could, you know, we were a tiny startup at the time, so it was all like 10, 20 bucks, but we'd given what we could to the, that crowdfunding campaign that you guys had set up.

And I remember, um, there was one evening we were at happy hour. I was at craft and commerce, uh, and literally down here in San Diego. And I got, I was with a couple of people. And I got a phone call from a number I didn't recognize. So I just, you know, I remember looking at the phone and being like, I don't know who that is and dismissing the call.

And then a few minutes later, you know, I, um, I was ready to take a break. I walked outside and I listened to this voicemail that I got, and it was his team Rubicon volunteer. Who was clearly in the field. Clearly it had a long day and he was just like, listen, you know, I know you gave $10. Thank you so much.

This allowed us to purchase a pizza for, for our crew and to have a hot meal after a warm day of, you know, or a hot meal after a cold day of disaster relief, like it was just really meaningful to us. So thank you. And I've never forgotten that. And to this day, you know, it's one of my little mini regrets that I just, I didn't pick up the call cause I would love to have spoken with that person.

Yeah. That's that's cool. I didn't know that you had received one of those phone calls. I, I think it was a magic moment. [00:28:00] You know, it was a moment where we brought the donor into the, into the story and you know, now of course I kind of. I've been doing this awhile and I realized, oh, that's here wisdom.

That's like, you know, every nonprofit waste their time talking about themselves, but really if you put the donor at the center of it and the volunteer at the center of it and you, and you heroize them, and you talk about how it's them, who is helping to respond to this, this hurricane, like, you know, ultimately.

You know, you were experiencing best, you could at that time, the disaster and yeah. And that's really, that's really cool to hear that that's that that's something that happened. Yeah. Well, and it, it just cements that, that connection, that relationship, I mean, you know, obviously we've been through some shit too.

You know, personally and the, and the organizations, but like, that's one of those things that like, just really plants that hook of like, this was meaningful. I have an emotional connection here and tr will always be one of those organizations that I have a fond feeling for really, you know, in part, because of just that moment of connection.

Yeah. Me, me as well. I mean, when you talk about Palentier, I mean, that's so cool that you introduced at Palentier because I remember for me, the moment that kind of stands out. That connects the dots. So like at team Rubicon every year, staff have to deploy to a disaster to feel a part of the mission, right?

To like, to know, you know, what this work is like and why we're doing what we're doing. And it's, it's the why, you know, and, uh, for me, I was in Wimberley, Texas, and there was a woman named Maria and we were going street by street and there was like, there was this train track. And on one, literally on one side of the tracks, You know, wealthy suburban homes and we would go tour them.

And we were tracking, we were using Palentier to actually map out. You know, the homes that were affected by disaster. And we could, we could report within [00:30:00] Palentier, like, you know, w how much flood damage was there. Did they need drywall work? You know, what kind of support did they need? And then we could map that workout and then, um, send crews.

So really cool that you introduced them. And I remember meeting this woman named Maria, who was on the wrong side of the tracks, right? Like the other side of the track had contractors. They were already. Ripping out drywall, they were preventing mold. Their homes were mocked out. They had rented all of the fans, all the stuff that you do, if you have money.

And Maria was in a rental own situation, only had a couple months left and her house was flooded and it was full of mud, like four feet of mud. And she didn't have homeowners insurance. She didn't really own the home, but her landlord who she was buying it from also didn't have any money. So he was like, this is your problem.

And she's like, I don't have any money. I, and you know, and I just remember, like, we handed her a Yeti cooler and we put her work order in to get her house mocked out. But I sat there for a couple hours just being present and being with her. And it was a very moving experience. It was like, it felt like this work has purpose and.

It's kind of interesting now because we're on the backend, you know, a lot of the work that we do for our clients, we try to find ways to help the team feel connected to the work that we're doing, because it can feel distant. But when you're working on a technology solution, you know, we did so much after COVID, uh, to support different organizations.

It's like sometimes you lose sight of the people on the other side of it and. For me, that, that moment with Maria, like really stands out and it's like, gosh, what a, what a whole reflection you can do around, around an experience [00:32:00] like that. How do you take that experience of, you know, you sitting, uh, with this homeowner for hours and myself getting a personal phone call from a volunteer in the middle of, you know, storm recovery work, you know, how do you take those experiences and really scale them so that as the organization grows and you have thousands of donors and volunteers, you want to thank, you know, where you can actually.

Maintain that personal connection, that personal those moments of catharsis with them. Uh, but do so, you know, at a scale that's, uh, that's efficient. Well, you know, it doesn't cripple a small and lean organization in Sanford, everything, right? It's, it's, it's the right message on the right channel at the right time.

And. I mean, there's, I guess I'll talk about the, how to do it. Not like what platforms, because there's a lot of different, amazing technology solutions from fundraising to engagement, to CRMs. And there's people working on a common data model. There's, you know, there's just all this cool stuff going on, but at the end of the day, it comes down to like, who are your key audiences?

So to have an audience led strategy, you have to know, you have to know your why you have to understand. You know what it is that you're doing and, and how you're doing it. And then you identify who could support that organization. What is their profile? What's their motivator. We talked about heroism, there's kin selection.

There's empathy. These are motivations. Why people support something because when we're, when we're, you know, when someone's donating, they're giving, because of that feeling of, of sorts, and you have to evoke some sort of emotional response, right? So basically. You want to think about who is your audience?

And. How, how do they want to be engaged? Like what, what's their motivator? So, you know, one of our clients is the Gary Sinise foundation, and we know that people support GSF through our market research that we've done with them for two main reasons like service and sacrifice. People want to support because people have served our country and if sacrificed a lot and they want to [00:34:00] give to the organization and the other big motivator is trust and transparency.

They really trust that Gary Sinise foundation will deliver. Um, on their promises that they, and they, they trust them because Gary Sinise foundation literally answers every phone call. They write every single letter back every single donor, no email goes unanswered. Think about that. That is insane. They are, you know, a very sizeable charity with tens of thousands of donors that all get personally engaged.

And how you do it is like you identify who those people are and what motivates them to give. And then you try to create content and you have to invest in content like team Rubicon, Gary Sinise foundation. Another one of our clients dig deep that provides water, drink, clean drinking water to Navajo nation.

Um, 30 30% of which do not have clean running water in their homes right here in the United States. They all invest in good content. So you have to go out and capture stories because you have to bring that experience like you, Mike, you experienced that donor or that volunteer rather. They connected you to the hurricane Sandy moment.

Right? So how you do that as you create good content that speaks to them that. Volks, some sort of feeling, and then you pick a few channels and you do them really well. Like email, text messaging paid, paid digital. You don't have to invest a lot of money that you can have a big impact and you kind of use the content across all these different channels.

And, um, you, you leverage something like paid media to see what really works, what what's converting, and then you build on that and you use that content down funnel for. Higher touch things like email or direct mail or something like that. You don't want to experiment with direct mail. It's too expensive.

You know, if you get it wrong, you've already purchased all this stuff. So experimenting with something like paid allows you to then use what really [00:36:00] worked on the more expensive channels. I feel like at some point tr transitioned from being. Uh, disaster relief organization that leverages veteran services to a veteran service organization.

That's just really great at disaster relief. I know part of the founding story comes out of, you know, suicide prevention and giving veterans a way to serve as like a way to continue, you know, boost self-esteem and self-efficacy and all that stuff. But, you know, what is that, first of all, am I right on that?

And second, if I am, you know, how did that transition take place and what was the impact on the organization? What you're referring to is is this moment when. The organization when team Rubicon, you know, realize that disaster response was a way to help veterans returning from war to have a sense of purpose, a sense of community, a sense of self identity.

And, um, it was an interesting moment, you know, when that, when that occurred, A huge effect on the organization and where it went because it introduced things like the clay hunt fellowship program, which honored clay, who, who lost his battle to suicide, who was one of the founding members of team Rubicon who went to Haiti and really needed that continued service as a way to cope with some of the invisible wounds of war.

The feeling, you know, I don't even want to pretend to describe what those are. I don't have that shared experience. So, but I think you can, you can kind of imagine those are, like I said, you know, to plug Jake's book again, but like check out once a warrior, you know, because Jake does a great job firsthand account of what.

What those wounds are that I'm referring to. So, okay. So I think what's the relatable thing for everybody. At the end of the day, an organization is a bit fluid. Like you have to know what your north star is, but you have [00:38:00] to be willing to adapt and change and, and not be stuck in a certain path because a plan is like a great place to deviate from it's important to have a plan.

The market is, is changing so quickly and evolving. So, so fast that like you need to be able to have fluidity and to be able to adapt and overcome. So I think the story of team Rubicon in that pivotal moment, when, when they transformed the organization and realize that the effect that the continued service had on veterans, not just those affected by disaster, but those who are serving.

Is huge. And, and you gotta embrace that moment and see how it changes your programming changes your organization's trajectory. It must've been hard to leave. Yeah. It wasn't like when did you know it was time to start something new? You know, I remember when I was at NWA, we were scaling so fast. The vice president of sales at the time, her name was Jill.

I can't remember her last name, but Jill was. A beast. And she said, she called everyone in this room and she said, look, not everybody who was here last year is here today. And not everyone was here today. We'll be here in three years. What the organization requires to go from zero to 10 million is different from 10 to a hundred million.

And what it's going to require to go from a hundred million to a billion, it's going to be something that I'm not able to provide. And so. It's important to kind of know your personal niche too. And I think a team Rubicon there became a moment when I realized like, okay, They brought on a amazing woman, Nicole, to run development, who, you know, had a lot of experience with major gifts, with a lot of the less about like that personalization at scale and more about the personalization.

You know, when you're targeting really high net worth people, it became more focused and [00:40:00] less, there was less breadth. And like I had, I could kind of see that, that the innovation piece, the. The ability to have my hands in a lot of different places was, was slipping away was, was kind of diminishing. And I also, at that point had already built up like a pretty successful consulting company.

And I wanted to, I wanted an opportunity to, to have the responsibility of defining our culture of, of building a company that was. You know, I'm Tiara is an important part of my story, and I think I'm an important part of team Rubicon story, like every gray shirt, but cosmic is my company and it's my responsibility.

And. I think that I was more ready for that than I, it was not just hubris. I felt actually ready to take that on. Uh, you know, I'd like many other moments in my life. I felt like it was more humorous. If you had asked me, I was ready to run a company at seven, you know, but it wasn't, it was incredibly hard, Mike, and it still is a very good friends with a lot of people there I'm rooting for them.

A lot of the people I worked with at team Rubicon now work at cosmic something I'm very grateful for. And I'm sure that they're disappointed. When it's time, it's time. What, what should organizations do? Whether it's best practice or not like official, widely agreed upon dogma. Best practice are not like brass tacks, like, you know, common mistakes, growth opportunities, things you want to try.

I know you're, you've been a pioneer in text message fundraising, for example, you know, give us some nitty-gritty. Controversial. If you are a nonprofit that thinks you were the only one, for example, solving a water problem, you are, you look around and there are 50 a view that are all also struggling. Uh, I think smaller nonprofits should merge.

I think a lot of profit should merge. And [00:42:00] if you're, if you're thinking about founding a new organization and you have an idea for something to do, look for other organizations doing the same thing and join them versus starting something like yes, exactly. Yeah. I think that that's, that's really important.

Invest in paid digital. I guess if there's any board members listening who thinks that their grandkid is on like Facebook or Instagram or something, if that's not what we're talking about, we're talking about professional marketing, building audiences and. And, you know, measuring the effectiveness, it's the cheapest way to build a supporter list and to engage them, treat every donor like their hero, not just your major donors.

I promise you the technology exists in order to be able to pull that off. And if you do, you will stand out and then you can acquire the small nonprofits that are all doing the same thing. I think culture is so important. Like you look hire slow fire fast. Hire slow fire fast. It's hard. I would say I was recently talking to a friend of mine.

Who's a recruiter who said, you know, 50% of hires are gonna, you're gonna fail. So poach first, look for people, you know, who you've worked with. Who've done good work and try and hire them. And then, uh, yeah, just, just really test somebody, especially if you're a small team. People, people are. The bread and butter of what you do most likely.

I don't know. Those are just a few like thoughts that come to mind. Hey, people are living wage. Like how do we, you know, I'm a big fan of startup, like, get, get shit done, bootstrap it, got it out as long as you can, but how do we get the social sector out of this scarcity mindset? The thing that I like most about running a social impact company is that you can balance profitability with treating people with respect and dignity.

So. Paying people, a living wage, you don't have to be in the top 10% in that category. In fact, people are attracted to something bigger than themselves. They're attracted to a culture they're attracted to the way that they're treated and individualized kind [00:44:00] of path or journey. Right. But they also need to pay their bills.

So paying them an equitable, fair wage, something that they can actually afford to live on. And then, you know, for us, W we have a lot of other benefits that we offer that, that I'm really proud of. And they cost our company a lot of money and it reduces our profit share, uh, or I'm sorry, our profit margin, but.

Things like profit share and, and healthcare and paid time off and training and learning and development. Also, you know, having realistic expectations, if you're starting a company or a nonprofit, you are not going to be able to find a bunch of mini use. That is, you know, that is really hard. So people need to balance like, are you trying to find somebody.

Who can think strategically and help pave the way or to execute. I think finding both is, is, is challenging. And I think it's something that I had expected out of people early on. And I've learned that, you know, that's, it's an unrealistic expectation. Yeah. I love that. My pay, I pay people, a living wage is really important.

Well, it's, you know, it's attracting, it helps attract people that are going to make a real positive difference. Like the, you know, really smart people. I promise they would rather work. Uh, cause for something they believe in then at some anonymous corporation, not creating positive impact, but they need to be able to.

You know, feed their families and go on vacation once in a while. Yep. Exactly, exactly. People, once you get to a certain point, you need a it's enough money. Like if they can feed their families, go on vacation recharge. Re-energize not worry about how they're going to make it make rent, but, you know, yeah.

Then they'll probably choose working for a purpose-driven company overnight. And if they want, then they, you know, they're not the right culture for your organization. Yeah. What's, what's the path not taken? Like what's your, which of your many pursuits and hobbies and passions would you be doing full-time if you were not engaged in the social sector?

Oh, [00:46:00] I love real estate development. I had a feeling you're going to say that. I mean, I had this vision of owning a yogurt shop as well, but, but if I'm honest, I mean, I love real estate development. I. It's something I'm passionate about. I it's a hobby. I spend a lot of time on, um, have been in and out of rental properties in terms of owning them.

Um, but it's interesting that you say not in the social sector, I think about providing equitable housing and in being able to, to try and provide on a, on a very small scale, like. Uh, reasonable rent for people, you know? Yeah. That's a big one, independent, you know, every work with, with team Rubicon and the long-term care stuff.

And your, your sort of current client roster, what do you think is the most important cause humanity could be tackling right now? Like what, what would you, if you're going to drop everything and focus on one thing, what would it be? Climate change. Hands down. I think it's an existential threat to the face as humanity and nothing else matters.

If we all have an unlivable planet, I used to think it was education. Cause I thought that that could be the path to addressing a lot of these issues. Oh God. We're in total agreement when you're, when you're ready to hang it up for real and you know, uh, go on vacation. What, what would you like to look back on and say like, Hey, we, we actually did something.

We made an impact. Yeah. At cosmic, we strive to fully fund every nonprofit organization. It's an impossible in-state. Um, I'd like to, I'd like to think that it built a company that attracts some of the best talent in, in, in the space to apply some of the best practices from the poor profit world in the nonprofit sector.

The treats and pays its team members, you know? Well, um, and that, that, you know, hopefully the impact of the company outlives, uh, Eliz my [00:48:00] time, you know, in it. And I think that, you know, ultimately that would be a pretty, a pretty meaningful, a meaningful thing, you know, to say, Hey, look across all these different clients and these different people.

We've we've made a small dent in the work that needs to be done. That feels, that feels good. Um, so what's next for, for you and for cosmic and how can people. Connect with you and continue the conversation work with you guys. Uh, get to know what you're up to a bit better. We'd love to come. NEC we offer these free things called scale sessions.

You can go to, um, CA U S E M I And it's literally a, a free. A free strategy call, um, where we can talk about how to rapidly scale your organization. And we have all these other things like we're working to democratize our approach. We have the resource hub, which is a low cost way for small nonprofits to, to benefit from, you know, our tactics and approaches that we, you know, deploy with with some of the larger organizations.

Hopefully Mike you'll have him back on the show and come back to. This has been great. Thank you so much for sharing all this, uh, all your insights and your time, and I'm sure a lot of value here really appreciate it. Yeah. Thank you, Mike. Really appreciate it as well. Good to catch up with your buddy. So that's our show for this week.

We hope you enjoyed it and even picked up a few ideas that you can put into action wherever you're doing your cause-related work big. Thanks to our guests, Matt Scott, from cosmic, and to all of you for listening, we have a special treat in store for you for the next. Holiday fundraising season is here.

And if you're working for a nonprofit organization, I'm sure you're well aware of the opportunity ahead here in the United States. Nearly half of all money raised by social good organizations comes in during the months of November and December. And one of the absolute highlights of the season is giving Tuesday.[00:50:00]

If you're not familiar, giving Tuesday is a global generosity. When millions of people all over the world contribute to the causes they care most about for our next step. We're joined by one of the most influential people behind the movement, giving Tuesday zone chief data officer Woodrow, Rosenbaum, Woodrow has engaged with literally thousands of organizations and millions of donors.

And he's unlocking the data behind giving fundraising strategies and what generosity looks like in communities all over the world. We're really looking forward to this one. Cause and purpose is a production of on behalf of myself, Matt and our entire. Thank you for listening and we look forward to catching up with you again soon.

Altruous Logo

Cause & Purpose is a production of Altruous, an impact discovery and management platform for the next generation of philanthropists. Learn more about our work by visiting

This episode was edited by Worthfull Media. Original music composed by Justin Klump of Podcast Music and Sound.

Copyright 2024, all rights reserved.

People in this episode

Mike Spear

Social entrepreneur, consultant, and podcast producer, Spear has been a member and critic of the impact sector since 2006. His work spans product, innovation, impact advising, storytelling, and go-to-market strategies. Part of the founding team at, specializing in helping social good organizations build amazing products, increase their impact, and scale.

Matt Scott

I’m a builder and doer with a track record of helping nonprofit leaders quickly grow revenue past the $10M mark.


Keep on Listenin'

Latest episodes in your mailbox

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Search podcasts, blog posts, people